Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is visiting this week. Think small dog, not music. Wolfgang, a little white fluffy Havana Silk, is currently curled up on a leather ottoman just inches from me. He is taking his midday nap, having worn himself out walking in the yard, barking at the cable repairman, and objecting to the tree trimmer.
Last night Wolfgang’s owners, a daughter, her husband, and two children, texted us to see how Wolfgang was adjusting to their absence. “Was he moping?”
At that moment, their precious puppy was curled up on an afghan on the sofa and looking thoroughly relaxed. He had had a busy day, following us around in the yard, watching squirrels, and barking at birds. The laundry had provided additional entertainment: socks, socks, and more socks. I learned to hide my reading glasses and put waste baskets up on counters. When he evaluated favorably the club chairs in the living room, we had a come-to-Jesus meeting.
“He definitely misses you,” I said. Little fibs are okay for the right reasons.
For over thirty years, we have resisted dog ownership, not that we don’t appreciate dogs.
I adore well trained dogs. Puppies cuddle and act silly. Dogs listen to inane chatter as if it mattered and love to take neighborhood walks, activities my husband escapes at the first hint. Dogs are improved door bells: they announce friend and foe as soon as they come near the property, a perfect solution for weak knocks and broken doorbells.
Herb, on the other hand, being a practical man, has a ready list of negative dog traits. All dogs begin as needy puppies. Puppies wet carpet and chew furniture legs. A puppy cries in the night, so you must sleep with your arm dangling over the mattress and your hand on the little guy when the ticking clock in the heating pad fails to calm him. And all cute puppies grow up to become dogs.
A dog listens with selective ears: it won’t come when called; then you must chase it down. While chasing Fido, we are likely to trip over a hole in the yard, twist a knee, and end up in surgery.
A dog doesn’t travel well. Although at our age, we must stop and relieve ourselves every two hours, we don’t have to be leashed and led to an approved area. When we arrive at our destination, we don’t have to apologize for having arrived as humans who need feeding and bodily function breaks at regular intervals, plus opportunities to voice our joys and fears; whereas to bring our precious pet, we would need to market its positive traits: its predictable and easy feeding habits — two bowls for the duration, one for water and one for dried food — and its polite housebroken behaviors — a steady stare at a green space in the back yard and pleading eyes. We would also need to extol our dog’s congenial, social skills, in spite of the fact that our dog would likely jump up to lick our hostess’s face or sniff inappropriately.
Since dogs bark indiscriminately at the trash man, the neighbor’s three year old grandson, and dear friends, not to mention all cats, squirrels, birds, and other dogs, I’m uncertain how to spin this behavior. How about, Wolfgang is talkative like me? I’ve been known to wake Herb up in the middle of the night for lesser reasons than “The house is on fire!” or “Someone is rattling the back door!” We all speak indiscriminately: Herb frequently interrupts my business to say, “Look! a white squirrel!” or “A red breasted, purpled beaked, triple tailed woodpecker in the Oak!”
Here’s his clincher: Dog’s die. You fall in love with them. They follow you everywhere, keep you company when no one else will, and tolerate what people won’t: being left at home in a cage for hours and berated for something they didn’t do. And then they die after only ten or twelve years. Over our lifetime, to always have a dog would mean we would have to fall in love and grieve more than six times, counting from age ten.
Wolfgang doesn’t know about all these objections to his species. He’s perfectly content to follow Herb outside at six every morning and later to chew on Herb’s cap and my socks. He sits to beg for treats and climbs into my lap when I’m reading. When I play classical music, he smiles. At night he crawls into his crate and falls sound asleep. (The crate is in our bedroom where I put it when he whimpered about feeling lonely his first night.)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart will be going home soon. His family will sweep in, embrace him, coo over him, and leave us to adjust to his absence. We will regain the leather ottoman and two square feet of walking space in the bedroom. I will return to walking myself and silencing my thoughts. I wonder if Herb will miss tossing his white cap at “Hey Dog,” his name for Wolfgang, and sitting with Hey Dog’s head on his thigh. Without Wolfgang’s barking, the house might seem too quiet for awhile. Still we don’t have to be concerned about falling in love and then grieving an absence. Or do we?